Hands Down! Don’t Sue!

I have nothing but sympathy for the victims of the Aurora Theater shooting. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to lose a loved one to violence. Nor can I imagine the severe trauma of having your own body gravely injured by bullets. My heart goes out to the survivors of the tragedy.

That said, I feel that the civil lawsuit currently being adjudicated in Arapahoe County is misguided. 28 people think that Cinemark should have done more to anticipate and prevent the mass shooting.

I followed the shooting and subsequent trial closely and I don’t feel the facts support this assertion. The plaintiffs seem to base their case on a memo from the Department of Homeland Security warning that movie theaters could be a possible target of terrorist attack. Yet, the memo gave no guidance as to how a business should proceed to prevent such an attack. Until July 20, 2012, no movie theater had been subject to any kind of rampage as we saw in Aurora.

The plaintiffs suggest that Cinemark should have equipped every exit door with an alarm that would have alerted people to James Holmes’ entrance. This would require security to deactivate said alarm every time a movie ends so that the crowds of people using the exit doors would not set it off, then reactivate it once the theater is empty. This may seem like an easy call post shooting, but beforehand, it would have appeared to be an inconvenience.

James Holmes was not a terrorist. He is a psychotic monster who meticulously premeditated the slaughter of dozens of people. He selected a gun-free zone, then cased the theater and diagrammed the entire layout of the premises. He charted the response time of police and rescue units. He even booby trapped his apartment with explosives in the hope of killing more people. I do not believe that this was a man who would have been stopped by metal detectors or door alarms.

After a tragedy of this magnitude, there is always a tendency to blame. Many blame guns and the gun lobby. Others blame violence in our entertainment culture. Still others blame a failing mental health system. Personally, I tend to point my finger at the lawyers. Gun control? Faugh! How about tort reform?

God bless the victims of this evil, senseless tragedy. And I will also pray for James Holmes’ family. Contrary to the opinions of some, I don’t believe they are responsible for the murderous actions of their adult son. I do hope the victims can heal from this horrific episode. I just don’t feel that greedy, opportunistic lawyers assessing blame in a courtroom is the most viable solution.

Lessons

Dear Mom and Dad:

This letter will serve to respectfully, constructively explain to you why I will never vote for Donald J. Trump for president of the United States. I have three reasons. One is ideological, one is emotional and one is logical.

First, ideology.

You probably look back fondly on the era of Ronald Reagan. I know I certainly do. I was a kid growing up in the ‘80’s, too young to appreciate the treacherous landscape of politics. I had no idea of the kind of hostility Reagan faced during his eight years in office. I had no understanding of the import of the assassination attempt on him in 1981. The Challenger explosion was just a reason for my classmates and I to quit working for an hour as the entire school watched live video coverage in the Windy Hills library. As an adult, I have a far greater appreciation for Reagan, but back then, I was just a kid who hated school.

What I do remember from that time period are Doc and Dorothy (Grandma and Grandpa O.) They were Roosevelt Democrats who never had a disrespectful word to say about Reagan. They didn’t vote for him and they did not support his platform, but they respected the office of the presidency.

Eldon and Frances (Grandma and Grandpa G.), who were both Eisenhower Republicans, took the same view during the Clinton era. They did not like either Bill or Hillary, but they kept their criticisms respectful. I remember Grandma G. adopted an unusual tone of disgust when the Lewinsky scandal broke, but by the time it really caught fire, she had her stroke and was unable to follow the proceedings.

One only needs to study the course of 20th century history to understand why my grandparents revered the highest office in the land as they did. During their collective lifetimes, they witnessed two world wars, the Roaring ‘20’s, The Great Depression, the Cold War, the Korean Conflict, the assassination of JFK, the Vietnam War, the first man on the moon, Watergate, an energy crisis, the Iran Hostage Crisis, the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan, the rise of terrorism, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the first war with Iraq. Despite these trials, they also saw many transformative achievements such as the rise of the automobile, the telephone, radio, television, computers and the internet.

In some respects, the Doc and Dorothy generation did their jobs too well. By providing an age of security and freedom for their kids, they also unintentionally paved the way to complacency. The Millennial Generation has never faced such a trial as a world war, a great depression or a presidential assassination. Their biggest worries are whether or not someone will violate their, “safe space,” or if the government will pay for their birth control pills. The only national tragedy they can remember is 9/11, but most of the Bernie supporters out there were just rug rats when the towers fell.

Don’t mistake me for a 41-year-old fogy. In many ways, our modern age is wondrous! The technology we now use is really amazing and it has allowed me to share this letter with many who might not otherwise see it. Heck…it allows me to read my mail without sighted assistance, which was merely a sci-fi dream when I was a kid. Yet, I do think the digital age has resulted in a sense of instant gratification for our young. They are the button-pushing generation.

Want new music? Just push a few buttons. Want to call a friend? Just touch your screen to activate a video call. Want a date? Call, It’s Just Lunch.

This is a large part of the reason why a man such as Donald Trump can get as far as he has. “You want jobs?” he says. “I’ll bring them back. I’m a successful businessman. I can do it.” “You want a wall? Mexico will pay for it.” “You want Putin to go away? I’ll make a deal with him. Putin loves me.”

Trump’s supporters are so eager for instant gratification, for deliverance from their fear and desperation, that they lap up whatever he says without critique. Never mind that the very things Trump promises are impossible for one man to render, given our political system; the very system that both of my grandfathers fought to protect overseas. Trump says it, so it must be so, right?

So I ask you this, Mom and Dad. What do you think your parents would think of Donald Trump if they were here? How do you think Trump would stack up against the great leaders of their time like FDR, Ike, JFK and The Gipper? For that matter, how would he stack up against the not-so-great leaders like Herbert Hoover, Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter? My educated guess is, The Donald would come up short in either column. I know he bragged otherwise once on a debate stage, but I think he comes up short. He doesn’t measure up as a Republican, as a leader, or even as a human being.

I believe that the office of Commander in Chief is the most worthy office in the world. Despite the strife that often accompanies it, it is a position of great honor, nobility and yes…respect. If it’s occupants have not always lived up to the position, one can understand, given the fact that few humans are capable of doing so. Yet, the obvious fallibility of Mr. Trump indicates to me that he is grossly unworthy of such a position.

This leads me to my second reason; the emotional one.

When you refused to send me to the school for the blind in Nebraska City, you were taking a big risk. When you kept me home and enrolled me in the public schools, you could not have predicted how difficult my years in school would be. One of the reasons was due to the various bullies that plagued me during my elementary years.

When you encounter enough bullies, you develop a sense that alerts you to their presence. It’s like a dog that pricks up his ears at the first scent of another animal. It’s in his blood. I learned how to smell bullies there in Windy Hills. I smelled them in the classroom, in the halls, on the playground and on the way home from school. They were an unfortunate reality of my childhood. I learned about bullying from every angle; the verbal, the emotional and the physical aspects of it.

Sadly, bullies don’t go away when you become an adult. I’ve met them in college, in the workplace, in social settings and on the street. We’ll call this a silver lining. The upside to dealing with 10-year-old bullies is that they prepared me for how to better deal with them when I left home.

My Spidey Sense began buzzing over Trump after the first primary debate when he clashed with Megyn Kelly. It was clear he had a very thin skin. She asked him a tough question that was fair game and he made it personal. If there’s one thing a presidential candidate should not and cannot do, it’s let things become personal. Trump did and ultimately accused Megyn of being ruled by her menstrual cycle and of being a third rate reporter (neither of which are true.)

It didn’t stop there. Do you notice how he loves to label his opponents? “Little Marco, “ “Lyin’ Ted,” “Crooked Hillary.” The last one may be true, but it is worthy of a presidential candidate to stoop that low? I don’t think so. I think it’s a bullying tactic designed to whip up emotions and distract from the real issues.

If you disagree, what do you make of the way Trump berated John McCain for the fact that he was a prisoner of war in Vietnam? There are reasons to berate Senator McCain, but his service record is not one of them. What would Doc and Eldon think of that?

What about Trump’s blatant mocking of a disabled reporter? Shouldn’t that offend me as a disabled guy? Frankly, I was far more put off by the way he mocked Carly Fiorina’s face. She was and is a real class act about the whole thing and turned it to her advantage. I’m only sorry she will not be our vice-president.

And what of Trump egging on his supporters when they became violent with anti-Trump agitators at his rallies? “Go ahead! I’ll pay your legal fees,” he yelled. Is this presidential?

Coming from the perspective of someone who has lived through it, I can tell you that, when it comes to bullies, the worst thing you can do is validate and enable their behavior. Trump’s legions of supporters have already validated him by casting their votes. Frankly, this doesn’t surprise me. People love power and they love it when someone displays a mean-spirited streak. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone in a position of prominence say something cruel, only to be cheered and encouraged by an audience. I think a lot of Trump supporters love it when he makes fun of the way Marco Rubio sweats, or accuses Ted Cruz’s father of having a hand in the Kennedy assassination.

Well Mom and Dad, since you went through it with me, I think you’ll understand when I draw a hard line and say, no way! I will not support or enable or otherwise encourage Donald Trump’s juvenile, boorish behavior.

There is a stark difference between a bully and a fighter. Reagan was a fighter, but he also understood a very basic truth. To everything, there is a season; a time to make war and a time to make peace. This is a distinction that is lost on The Donald. I feel quite comfortable in surmising that he has never read Ecclesiastes. I doubt he could even pronounce it. If he ever read this, he’d go on Fox and Friends and accuse me of plagiarizing The Birds.

Now, to my third reason, which is based in logic.

After Trump’s blow-out victory the other night in Indiana, a Fox News commentator said that Never Trump people were, “Useful idiots for Hillary.” Newt Gingrich (whom some believe is bucking for a VP spot with Trump) echoed the sentiment by saying that those who do not back The Donald are functionally supporting Hillary.

This is an argument that is easily turned around. I could argue that Trump supporters are “useful idiots” for Hillary. This is based on my very reasonable belief that Trump simply cannot beat Hillary in the general election in November.

Without exception, every major, credible poll in America has Hillary ahead of Trump by double digits…and we’re only two days into the reality that he is the presumptive GOP nominee. What do you think will happen when Hillary starts to provoke The Donald? He will not have 16 other opponents to divide the field, but just one.

Whatever her shortcomings, Hillary is a shrewd politician. Roughly half the country will support her world view. All she has to do is take out mega advertising and fill it with old clips of Donald’s past comments about women, veterans, Muslims, Hispanics, etc. Do you think Donald will have the analytical skills and tactical fortitude to deflect her? I do not believe so. He has done nothing thus far to indicate that he has any common sense at all. In fact, I think his victory over a GOP field that was 16 strong will only encourage his crass behavior. He is too obtuse to realize that his luck thus far has been due to a combination of external factors that have nothing to do with his own political prowess.

Part of it has been luck and his luck will run out in six months, if not before. I still think he will ultimately self-destruct and the country will cry, enough! Until then, the Republican Party can count it’s dead and scratch it’s head wondering just what the hell happened. Maybe Ben Sasse is right and a viable third-party candidate will emerge. If so, Hillary will still win it due to a split GOP vote.

In closing, let me say that, like Grandma and Grandpa, you guys did your jobs too well. You taught me about things like honesty, integrity, respect for others with whom you disagree and kindness in the face of adversity. Mom, you always used phrases like, “Respect breeds respect.” Dad, you always told me I could be funny, but that I should also be a class act.

Are these intrinsic characteristics something you want in your child, but not your president? I can’t believe that. You raised me better than that. I am the seed you have planted and now I am a Republican in full bloom.

I write this with the knowledge that you were not initially Trump supporters. I know your desire for me to vote for Trump is born of an acknowledgement for the need for party unity. I am mindful of your desire to beat Hillary and stay loyal to the Republican Party. I want the same thing, but as this letter illustrates, I don’t believe for one second that Trump is the man who will get the job done. Quite the contrary. I think Trump will do far more to damage the Republican brand than he would do to grow it.

You always told me to go out and be a bridge-builder. In this age of encroaching socialism and the loss of personal freedoms, it is more important than ever that the message of conservatism rings loudly across the land. Is the man to carry that message the man who has donated thousands of dollars to Democrats over the years and who unapologetically defends himself by saying, “I’m a businessman. I make deals on both sides of the aisle.” I think not.

If you find none of my arguments to be convincing, we’ll have to agree to disagree (respectfully, of course.) You can put it down to the fact that I am still the strong-willed child.
Sincerely,

Your loving son and proud Republican,

RyanO

P.S.: Yes, I remember Grandma G. refusing to shake Bob Kerrey’s hand. He was a governor, not a president.

#NeverTrump

Praise Walt and Pass the Cobbler

We’re now two seasons into Better Call Saul, the prequel to AMC’s crime epic, Breaking Bad, which tells the back story of Walt and Jesse’s shyster lawyer, Saul Goodman. Here are a few thoughts:

If you’re looking for Breaking Bad 2.0, this ain’t it. The transformation of Jimmy McGill to Saul Goodman does parallel that of Walter White to Heisenberg, but the change is much more subtle. Whereas Walter was a meek chemistry teacher who became a murderous drug lord, the path that Jimmy treads to become Saul is much shorter and narrower. Jimmy was always a theatrical con man who merely changed his name and his clothes. The series reflects this.

There is more comedy in the prequel. The cliffhangers and dramatic gut-punch moments that hooked fans of the mother ship week after week just aren’t there for Saul. By the end of the second season of Breaking Bad, we’d had shootings, beatings, a strangling, poison gas, a plane crash, a blackmailing junkie choking on her own vomit, a mercury bomb in a drug lair, more shootings, more beatings, an exploding human head on a turtle, a junkie’s head crushed by an ATM, Hector ringing his bell in a wheelchair and bloody body parts in an acid bath.

On Saul, we’ve had a couple of shootings, a couple of beatings and…umm…that’s pretty much it. You guys can call me bloodthirsty if you want, but is it too much to ask that we get a little violence with our crime show? The more twisted, the better. He he!

Another flaw in the slaw is the fact that Bob Odenkirk doesn’t possess the leading man qualities that made Bryan Cranston such a force of nature. Odenkirk was pitch-perfect as a supporting player for Walt and Jesse; a comical figure who would often stir a healthy dose of levity into an otherwise dark mixture. Odenkirk’s limited range is high-lighted when he carries the emotional burden of the show.

He is at his best when he is running a scam, whether it is on a drunk in an alley, on Ken Wins at a swanky hotel bar, or on the psychopathic Tuco Salamanca. He owns the stage when he is creating a flashy commercial, scheming on how to put one over on his lawyer bosses, or skirting ethical guidelines in service of an elderly client.

The cracks in Odenkirk’s armor appear when he plays the more emotional scenes, particularly against his mentally ill brother, Chuck. Jimmy McGill exhibits a mixture of compassion, vengeance and sibling rivalry with his brother. Odenkirk is competent in the illustration of this emotional gambit, but he does not excel at it as did his meth-making predecessor.

Of course, many of us aren’t really watching as much for Saul as we are for the further adventures of Mike Ehrmantraut. Next to Walt and Hank, Mike was one of my favorite characters on Breaking Bad and I freely admitted that I cared much more about his origins than those of Saul Goodman. One of the things I was hoping for in the prequel was more screen time for Mike and little Kaylee.

But thus far, I’ve been somewhat disappointed. Mike was reduced to cameos in the first few installments. Things turned around with the telling of his arrival in Albuquerque in the flashback episode, “5-0.” This was, in my opinion, Breaking Bad quality work. It’s no coincidence that it was also one of the darkest episodes of a series that is otherwise much lighter in tone.

After “5-0,” Mike seems to have been reduced to a supporting role. I realize that the title of this series is not, Better Like Mike, but I don’t care. Jonathan Banks is amazing in this role and Mike is a more compelling character than Saul. I do have a preference of crime shows over comedies, so that may explain my bias. Still, I think the majority of Breaking Bad fans would agree with me on this point.

Maybe the producers of Better Call Saul just want to take it easy on ol’ Mike. As of this writing, Jonathan Banks is 69 years old.

What the hell am I talking about?! My parents are both 69 and they still kick ass and take names! Age is no excuse. We like Mike!!!

Going forward with season three, the writers are going to have to darken the tone of the series. Yes, Saul isn’t a blood-soaked crime epic, but it has a bit of a schizophrenic feel to it, as if it can’t decide if it wants to be a full comedy, a legal drama, or another Breaking Bad. Jimmy McGill isn’t yet the guy who urged Walt to send Jesse to Belize, but he needs to start taking more than baby steps to get to that point before he loses my interest completely.

Now, let’s discuss the 500-pound chicken in the room. We’ve seen quite a number of crossover characters from the original series, but no one but the most ardent BB fans care about Lawson the gun dealer, Stephanie the realtor or Fran the waitress. We’re watching so we can cheer with glee when Tuco breaks a couple of legs, when pre-stroke Hector walks into a bar and talks nice to Mike, and when his silent nephews (The Cousins) stalk little Kaylee from a rooftop.

That said, every fan in the world is going to scream loud enough to tweak Mike’s hearing aid when Gustavo Fring returns to their small screens. Frankly, the finale of season two was a big disappointment because it was all build-up with no real payoff. We know Mike’s not going to kill Hector, but all we get is a cryptic note on his windshield? C’mon! Gus needs to make his presence known in season three and it needs to happen sooner than later.

I’ve been critical in this writing and it belies my opinion that Better Call Saul is a good show. As usual, the supporting cast is stellar, especially Michael McKean as Jimmy’s brother, Chuck McGill, and Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler, Jimmy’s on-again, off-again romantic and legal partner.

Sidebar: Wouldn’t it be great if Kim could somehow be the one who defends Jesse if he ever got caught? It’s a nice thought, but I don’t think it will happen.

Yes, Better Call Saul is a good show. But that’s all it is…good. It’s not crazy good as was Breaking Bad. It’s not appointment television. I like the show, but I love eating all of Katy’s popcorn and annoying her while petting Tytus the cat.

Maybe there are people out there who think Saul surpasses Heisenberg. Fair enough. Entertainment is subjective. People think Donald Trump is worth voting for and I’m entitled to think those people are dead wrong. If you disagree with me and think my comparisons of Saul to Breaking Bad are spurious, ask yourself an honest question. Would you be watching Better Call Saul if it were a stand-alone show that had no connection to Breaking Bad? My answer is…uh uh. What’s yours?

Come on, now. Be honest.

Window to a Footnote

Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of participating in history.

It was merely a sliver of a much larger piece; a brief flicker on a movie screen. It certainly would not equate to The Boston Tea Party or the Treaty of Versailles. At most, the events surrounding the state convention of the Colorado Republican Party will eventually amount to no more than a footnote in most historical texts. Yet, this election is nothing if not historic, and I was glad to play a minuscule part in it. Given the controversy that is now swirling around the actions of the Colorado Republican Party, I thought my perspective (however insignificant) might prove valuable as another place marker in my life’s journey.

I spent the entire weekend in Colorado Springs. With apologies to the GOP, my main reason was not political. My girlfriend’s birthday was in close proximity to the convention, and that proved to be my prime motivator. It also may explain why I was more than a little tired when I got to the Broadmoor World Arena at approximately 8:45 on Saturday morning. It was not a good morning to go without coffee, but I had no choice as I had already overslept and was in a rush.

I could tell you about the myriad of speeches I heard. The chief form of entertainment at a convention is speechmaking. All of the state big-wigs put in quick appearances at the microphone; Cory Gardner, Doug Lamborn, Mike Coffman and Ken Buck all spoke. But for my dough, the most interesting exchange took place, not on stage, but in the row directly behind me.

The dialogue occurred between two rank-and-file Republican delegates; one of them a supporter of Donald Trump, the other a backer of Ted Cruz. The Cruz supporter was a woman of advanced age with a telling Texas drawl. The Trump advocate was a guy who sounded as if he could’ve been anywhere from 30 to 60. Their personas were polar opposites of their candidates. The Cruz supporter was aggressive, abrasive and at times, rude. The Trump guy was soft-spoken and polite.

I didn’t have a sound recorder or a note taker of any kind so I’m paraphrasing here, but this is just some of what the Cruz lady said:

“Ted Cruz is a man who will do what he says he’s gonna do. When he was AG in Texas, he went after a couple of illegals who raped and murdered an 11-year-old girl. That’s cast-iron character right there. Donald Trump is a windbag who makes his straw through character assassination. We don’t need a leader like that. Ben Carson is a wimp. I can’t believe he would back a man like Donald Trump!”

The Trump guy didn’t bother to point out to her that she was engaging in the very behavior for which she was criticizing The Donald. The most he ever said was, “I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree about Trump.”

You could tell he was ready to withdraw from the encounter, but she kept pressing him.

“I just don’t see how Trump supporters can back a man who’s been on every side of an issue. Cruz is a man of his word. Ain’t that what we want in our politicians? When we finally get one, half the party craps out!”

Finally, the Trump guy got up and left. I didn’t blame him.

As for me, it’s strange how you can be on someone’s side on the issues, yet find that they chafe like sand paper underwear. I call it, the Dr. Laura Schlessinger phenomenon.

I could tell you more about the convention; the endless speeches, the transparent ass-kissing from the 597 delegates all wrestling for 13 seats, the ballpark hot dog and Pepsi I had for lunch, thereby emphasizing the sporting nature of the event. But let’s just skip to the part where Ted Cruz showed up.

My pal Bill told me that Cruz was on the schedule for 12:30. Given the nature of national campaigns with their vast arrayed of staff members, Secret Service escorts and death threats, not to mention the protesters (probably Bernie supporters) lurking outside the arena, I found it impressive that Cruz was only a half-hour late. According to my trusty iPhone, it was 1:05 when he took the stage.

At that point, I had forsaken my seat in my row. The noise, the crowd, the stadium-style steps, the confines of the seat strangling my torso, the mouthy Cruz fan behind me…all of these factors conspired to drive me downstairs, where I eavesdropped on Cruz’s speech at the bottom of a stairwell. A third of the way through, an authoritative voice said, “Sir, do you have a seat?”

“Maybe,” I replied.

“Well, I [‘m gonna have to ask you not to stand right here blocking the stairs, sir. It’s a fire hazard.”

“Sure thing,” I said with a smile and walked away. I found another stairwell further down and was careful not to stand directly in front of it. Luckily, the stairs were very close to an amplifier, so I could hear Cruz clearly.

Fire hazard or not, foot traffic was no problem during his speech. The hallway where I stood was absolutely clear. There wasn’t a soul on the steps nor in the area near me. In my mind, I imagined the arena filled to capacity as Cruz delivered his remarks.

Honestly, the speech itself was nothing you couldn’t see on the internet. It was the same platitudes delivered in Cruz’s trademark pseudo-televangelist’s style. The call-and-response nature made me want to hit my knees and beg for salvation. The noteworthy element was the energy that filled the arena. You could almost sense that my fellow delegates and alternates all realized that, despite Cruz’s cheap Reagan imitation, they were living during a distinctive moment in history.

After Cruz was finished, a human tidal wave flooded into the hallway. I flattened myself against the wall and waited as every Cruz supporter in the building headed for the nearest hot dog, soft pretzel and pizza slice.

The reason for the mass exodus became evident when I detected the light tones of a youthful voice coming from the arena. It turned out to be the Trump surrogate. I only caught snippets of his speech, but it sounded as if it was written by Bernie Sanders (or maybe Alex Jones?) as he railed against, “The Establishment,” “International corporate corruption,” and “Honey money politics.” The cheers received were sparse at best.

I missed John Sununu’s speech on behalf of John Kasich. Despite the fact that I believe that Kasich is irrelevant at this point, I must admit that I started to mentally check out after Cruz spoke. Darryl Glenn was a pleasant surprise and won my support. After doing my homework, I chose to support the slate of delegates who were pro-Cruz. I’d pretty much made up my mind by 2 PM and the rest was just fluff. You can only hear so many chest-thumping speeches before your brain begins to switch to cruise control.

The exception to this came during George Brauchler’s short speech. I’ve been partial to Brauchler ever since I heard him as a weekend radio host on KOA. Later, I sat with wrapped attention as he prosecuted the case against James Holmes (aka, the Aurora Theater Shooter.) I appreciate his direct style and plain language. I work in Boulder and my coworkers are a collection of clichéd leftist stereotypes. In a workplace where people are bound and determined that two plus two equals five, it was oddly comforting to be reminded that good and evil are still finite concepts. Brauchler is merely a human being like the rest of us, but sitting there in the cold control room, he served as the voice of justice. I also enjoyed his speech at the county assembly wherein he spoke of his family with evident warmth and affection.

The rest of my time was spent finding a reader for my ballot. Many thanks to J. R. (yes, that’s really his name) and his lovely wife for reading the ballot to me. I never got her name, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Sue Ellen. When I left, it was raining and nothing had ever felt so soothing to me.

My first hint of what was to come came the next day as my girlfriend and I returned from her birthday dinner. I glanced at Twitter and saw a lament from Matt Drudge that said:

“Does George Bush have to invade Colorado to make it a democracy? STUNNING Republicans had no primary or caucus. At least Dems are faking it.”

I dismissed this as the all too typical pro-Trump handwringing by Drudge and made a mental note to unfollow his personal Twitter account when I got home the next day. By the time I followed through on said mental note a day later, Trump was shrieking about a crooked, rigged system in Colorado and the national media was running with the ball. The Drudge sirens were shrill with headlines about, “voterless elections,” “stolen delegates,” and “Establishment tyranny.” Trump officials were accusing Cruz of using, “Gestapo tactics.” Colorado Trump delegates claimed that they had been banned from the convention, their names had been left off the ballot and that they were given no true voice at the venue.

The Cruz camp countered that they did their homework, while Trump slacked off by scheduling an event in Colorado Springs the day before the convention, then canceling at the last minute. By late Monday, GOP state chairman Steve House had canceled all interviews with the media and turned off his cell phone.

From this point on, let me be clear about my bias so there’s no mistaking where I stand. Up until March 16, I was a supporter of Marco Rubio. When he suspended his campaign, I switched my loyalty to Ted Cruz. I have done so with a clear conscience. I don’t have high hopes for a Cruz victory in November, but at this point, I’ll take substance over symbolism. I should also make it clear that, as I’ve previously stated in this blog, I will write in a candidate before pulling the lever for Donald Trump. That said, let me correct some of the misnomers that have been flying around since Saturday.

First, the sassy Cruz supporter who sat behind me at the morning session was an anomaly. I overheard many conversations that day and, with that one exception, they were all friendly at their best, civil at their worst. I never witnessed any bullying or intimidation on any side.

Next, Matt Drudge is dead wrong. We did hold a caucus in Colorado. I was there at the Centennial Covenant Church on March 1 where I was chosen to be a delegate to the county assembly and to the state convention. The good folks in my precinct chipped in their own hard-earned money to send me to state because I didn’t have enough cash in my wallet to fund my own trip. When I asked them for their phone numbers so I could reimburse them, they refused. This wasn’t charity or guilt. It was participation in the political process.

Drudge loves to use the term, “Voterless elections,” when referring to the Colorado contest. This is disingenuous. People who bothered to show up had the chance to vote on who they wanted to send to their county and state assembly from each precinct. At the state convention, delegates voted on who they want to send to the national Republican convention in Cleveland. The illusion of a bunch of high-powered leaders in smoke-filled rooms deciding the fate of our election with zero voter input is misleading. If you want to make an argument to me that our election process wasn’t as representative of the average voter as it should have been, I will go along with that. But this is the same way we’ve been exercising representative government for decades. There was nothing deliberately nefarious about the process this year.

It’s also worth mentioning that the number of Trump supporters at our local caucus was very low. We had Rubio, Cruz, Kasich and Carson supporters who were all vocal, but not a one for Trump.

The snag comes in because the party did not hold any kind of straw poll. Several people asked our caucus leader if we were going to hold a presidential voice vote before the caucus adjourned and she flatly said no. I thought this was a mistake then and am doubly certain today.

The entire core of anger from the anti-establishment crowd comes from the idea that they no longer have a voice in the process. They believe that the Republican elites in Washington D.C. are consumed by their own interests and no longer care about their base. A straw poll, even a non-binding one, would have gone a long way to mitigate this anger. Instead, it only served to fuel Trump’s very predictable reaction when Cruz swept our state convention.

Never mind that Trump didn’t even try to compete for our state. Never mind that he didn’t do his homework and, thus, was outflanked by Ted Cruz. Never mind that neither he nor his supporters complained about the process until the day after the contest. Trump lost the game and, when he loses, it’s everyone else’s fault but his own. So Trump, populist manipulator, plays on the tangible anger of his own base and mixes a kernel of truth into his mish-mash of lies.

Trump is claiming that the state establishment wanted to thwart him, so they changed the rules last August to favor Cruz. Nonsense, nonsense, nonsense! Yes, the state party changed the rules last August, but sabotaging the Donald wasn’t a factor. At that time, only one debate had aired and no one thought Trump was going to get as far as he did. Our mistake. For that matter, no one thought Cruz was going to get as far as he did. Our mistake.

In truth, the reason the party dispensed with the straw poll had to do with past elections. In the 2008 Colorado primary, Mitt Romney was the winner. By the time of our state convention, Romney had dropped out and John McCain was the presumptive national nominee. Yet, the delegates were bound to Romney, which made their initial votes null and void.

Flash forward four years to 2012, when Rick Santorum won the Republican Colorado primary. Once again, Santorum was gone by the time of our state convention, though his delegates were still pledged to him.

The party thought that it would be better to leave the delegates available to see who was left standing on the national stage at our convention. This may have seemed pragmatic at the time, but given the anti-establishment mood that has permeated this election cycle, it proved to be a serious lapse in judgment. And that’s all it was. I don’t believe for a second that it was a vast conspiracy to defraud Trump of his God-given delegates.

The solution to this current public perception crisis is obvious. Colorado needs to switch from a caucus to a primary system. For the record, Chairman Steve House has publicly supported this idea.

Frankly, I like the caucuses. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Trump doesn’t do as well in caucus states. I think the voters that show up and spend a little more time at a caucus, rather than simply pulling a lever in a voting booth, are better informed and engaged in the affairs of their community. However, a primary system is more inclusive and allows for the busy schedules of the average voter more than does a caucus.

That said, I am absolutely, unalterably opposed to an open primary. This is the kind of contest that squishy moderates and sneaky political organizers love, because it allows someone from either party to vote in either primary. A closed primary only allows for registered members of a given party to vote in that party’s contests. Why in God’s name would we want Democrats having a say in who we present as our choice for the general election?

Before the state convention, there were already rumblings of a ballot initiative this November that would switch Colorado’s elections from a caucus to a primary. I have no doubt that this controversy will only fuel the fire. I will happily support such a measure, but only if we get closed primaries on both sides. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Donald Trump does better in states with open primaries.

Finally, I will make a sad prediction. Hillary Clinton is going to be our next president. Republicans and right-leaning moderates have about six months to make their peace with the coming reality of President Clinton 2.0. Frankly, this is heartbreaking to me, but this is the hand that Trump has dealt the GOP. This election had so much promise with a diverse field of candidates who, by in large, could have easily trounced Hillary in November. But the thing I feared most has taken hold; the misguided anger of the uninformed voter.

If Trump is selected as our nominee in Cleveland this July, those of us in the Never Trump movement will stay home, or will do as I plan to do and write in a candidate. Sorry, Mom and Dad, but I refuse to give the vote that my grandfathers and uncles fought for overseas to an unprincipled, narcissistic opportunist who has no core values. Many other principled conservatives feel the same way.

On the other hand, if Trump is not the nominee, he will throw yet another tantrum, walk out of the hotel and officially start his third-party run. I believe that the stink he’s raising over the Colorado convention is merely a prelude to such a bid. Moreover, I don’t believe that he actually wants to be president. I think he just gets off on the adoration of the big crowds that gather at his rallies. If his campaign manager manhandles an occasional reporter, so much the better. Any media attention is good attention for The Trumpster.

Trump’s disenfranchised base will blindly follow him. It won’t matter if our nominee is Ted Cruz, or a Hail Mary candidate selected at the convention. They won’t care. They’ll either vote for Trump, or just stay home. The Republican Party is deeply fractured and I don’t see a figure who can rise above the fray and unite us in time for November to come around.

Meanwhile, Hillary’s base will unify behind her despite her unlike ability. Yes, Bernie Sanders’ supporters are vocal and passionate, but they’re not going to swing over to Trump, no matter what he claims. They will vote for the lesser of two evils. The only slim chance Republicans have for a victory is if Sanders runs third-party after he loses the Democrat nomination. I don’t see this happening.

Sidebar: Some of my conservative friends hope that Hillary may be indicted over her Email debacle. Obama will never let this happen. He knows that Hillary is the best chance he has of perpetuating his legacy. The Supreme Court vacancy left in the wake of Antonin Scalia’s death is the best example of this political reality.

So, there you have it, folks. That was my first (and probably last) dalliance in state politics. I’m glad I participated in the convention, but I doubt that I would ever do it again. I just can’t tolerate noisy crowds the way I did a decade ago.

You know…I wonder if Scalia is having a good laugh right about now. He probably realizes just how futile all of this gamesmanship really is. I guess he can let us know when we get there. In the meantime, this is the world we live in and we can either choose to engage, or sit back and let things happen to us.

Shining City in the Darkness

This entry is reprinted from a Facebook post I wrote late last year. In light of the recent fractures within the GOP, and given the fact that I will be representing my precinct next weekend at the Republican State Assembly in Colorado Springs, I think it’s more important than ever that I take this opportunity to reaffirm my values.

Let it also serve as an explanation for my friends and family as to why I will never vote for Donald Trump.

“Ryan, how can you be a Republican!?”

I have lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked this question. The subtext is usually, “Ryan, how can a blind person possibly be a member of a party that clearly doesn’t care about minorities.”

The answer is simple. I am not a person who is defined by my blindness. My eyes may be broken, but I don’t blindly follow a political ideology with which I fundamentally disagree.

I believe in a limited government that defends our borders, but I believe even more strongly in a free market that allows individuals to reach their full potential. I believe in the men and women who defend said borders. I believe that said government can only maintain a robust economy if we balance the budget and don’t spend more than we have. I believe that lower taxes stimulate the economy. I believe that the Constitution of the United States as written is the greatest American document ever authored and, if it is followed, allows people to achieve the highest form of freedom in their lives.

I believe that minorities can achieve more understanding through dialoguing peacefully with their neighbors, rather than being caught up in the collectivist mentality of angry identity politics. I believe that every human being has the right to life, pre or post partum. I believe that a gun is merely a tool in the hand of the person who uses it.

I believe that man is merely another part of Mother Nature and has absolutely no dominion over her what so ever. I believe in justice for the victims of violent crime. I believe that our country is strong due to diversity through lawful immigration. I believe that marriage is between one man and one woman. I believe that the family unit is the greatest weapon against poverty that humanity has ever designed.

But most of all, I believe in America! Yes, we are a flawed country with a checkered past. What country isn’t? But there is no place on God’s green earth that I’d rather live as a blind person and as a free citizen.

Does the fact that I carry a cane and read with my fingers mean that I shouldn’t believe in any of these things. Of course not! It merely means that, in my opinion, the Republican party is the best apparatus by which my views can be expressed in the public discourse. No, they are not perfect, but they represent who I am far more closely than any other political party or philosophy.

Someone once said to me, “I wouldn’t admit that I was a Republican if I were you.” Why the hell not!? I’m proud to be a member of the party of Abraham Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, Condoleezza Rice, Marco Rubio and many other great leaders. If you don’t like it, go vote with the other party and don’t let the door bang you in the butt on the way out.

Thank you, God bless America and have a nice day.

Fascinating!

One year ago today, Leonard Nimoy passed away. I was sitting in the control room at work when the alert flashed across my phone. I sat there and absorbed the news and hoped no one would come in as tears dampened my eyes. I’m sure Mr. Spock would not have approved, but as he so often reminded audiences in his post Star Trek career, Leonard Nimoy was not Spock…or was he?

The impact of the half-Vulcan, half-human First Officer aboard the fictional, futuristic U.S.S. Starship Enterprise can hardly be exaggerated. Up until 1965 when Spock was invented by Gene Roddenberry, extraterrestrial aliens were almost always viewed as hostile, evil forces who were bent upon invading Earth. Think “War of the Worlds,” or “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” If they didn’t want to conquer humanity, they wanted to imperiously save us from ourselves as in, “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”

Spock represented a more optimistic relationship between humans and those of other worlds, embodying the notion that those of different cultures can work together for a set of common goals.

This isn’t to say that Spock embraced his human side. On the contrary. IN alignment with Vulcan culture, he suppressed it and was made to feel ashamed of his emotions. Whether intentional or not, this showcased a flaw in Spock and the Vulcan way of life. Some might disagree, but I believe that denying a large portion of one’s nature is…wait for it…illogical. Of course, many ancient Vulcans did continue to embrace their emotional nature, thereby seceding from Vulcan and becoming Romulans, a race depicted as mostly evil throughout the course of the franchise.

If the series had centered around Spock, it would not have lasted five episodes. A large part of what made Spock such a compelling character was the friendship he maintained with Captain Kirk and Dr. McCoy. They were the perfect triangle; Kirk, the bold, adventurous leader who was not risk-averse, Spock, the dispassionate pragmatist who viewed everything through a logical lens, and McCoy, the antithesis of Spock, the compassionate healer who constantly wore his emotions on his sleeve. It was not the various encounters with Klingons, parallel universes or retired Greek gods that made the series so fascinating. Rather, it was the emotional core of the relationship between Kirk, Spock and McCoy that brought viewers back week after week.

William Shatner was the star of the original series, but Spock was it’s most popular and enduring character. I don’t think it’s unfair to point out that Nimoy was probably the superior actor of the three main leads. In fact, with the possible exception of Mark Lenard who played Spock’s father Sarek, Nimoy mastered the complex intricacies of the Vulcan culture and remains unparalleled to this day. From the Vulcan nerve pinch to the Vulcan mind meld to the curious split-fingered Vulcan salute, Nimoy owned the essence of what it meant to be a Vulcan. Many future actors such as Tim Russ, Kirstie Alley, Jolene Blalock, Zachary Quinto and Kim Cattrall have tried to imitate Vulcans, but they don’t even come close to the subtle nuances that Nimoy brought to the role. Russ as Tuvok on Star Trek: Voyager is particularly painful to watch. He sounds like a guy who is about to read you the stock reports on the radio. Quinto tries to portray a young Spock and he won Nimoy’s praise, but for my dough, he has the opposite problem, sounding too emotional.

The concept of Spock proved so popular that all future incarnations of the original series had to (ahem ahem( borrow from the Spock character. They did it twice in Star Trek: The Next Generation. They didn’t give us another Vulcan, but instead, we got an android named Data who viewed everything through the same emotionless lens. The twist…rather than having him suppress the humanity that he didn’t have, Roddenberry embarked Data on a quest to become more human. The other homage to Spock came in the form of Deanna Troi, the ship’s counselor who was half-human, half-Betazoid.

Future series also borrowed heavily from Spock. In Star Trek: Deep Space 9, Odo is the outsider alien who can never fit in and be happy anywhere. In Voyager, B’Elanna Torres is a half-human, half-Klingon engineer who constantly struggles with her identity. We also got a ship’s doctor who was a computer-generated hologram, thus enabling writers to continue the ‘no emotions’ trope. In Star Trek: Enterprise, we returned to the Vulcan science officer concept, along with an alien outsider doctor played by John Billingsley. All of these characters are cheap knock-offs of the original, to a greater or lesser degree.

You can talk to me all day about budgets, special effects and wooden acting, but Leonard Nimoy’s turn as Mr. Spock was a truly groundbreaking turn in television that has never been matched since in the Trek franchise. He was awarded with the juiciest dramatic moments throughout the course of the show’s history. Included were:

“The Naked Time,” in which the Enterprise is infested by a virus that causes the crew to act as if they were drunk. Spock is infected and hides in a rec room as he cries openly with shame and tries to regain control of his Vulcan side.

“The Galileo Seven,” in which Spock takes command of an away mission that goes disastrously wrong. Some of the crew exhibits bigotry toward Spock, which offends McCoy greatly. Spock also learns that sometimes, the logical way is not always the correct way.

“This Side of Paradise,” in which Spock is infected by spores that cause him to become happy and passive, along with the rest of the crew. Kirk must prod him back to duty by playing on race hatred, which triggers Spock’s own repressed anger at being a half-breed.

“Amok Time,” which is probably the best Spock episode. Spock begins to act in an atypically erratic manner. As it turns out, he’s hornie, which is something that only happens to Vulcans every seven years. To cure his lust, he must go back to his home planet, where he must get married and ultimately tries to kill Kirk. It sounds weird in writing, but believe me, it works!

“Journey to Babel,” in which Spock’s estranged parents come aboard the Enterprise during a dangerous diplomatic mission. Spock must choose between family loyalty and his duty when his father, Sarek, is suspected of murder.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” which contains the single most heartbreaking death scene in all of Trekdom. Yes yes, I know that Spock will be resurrected in the next movie, but I still shed tears every time I watch Kirk and Spock saying what they think is their final goodbye through a glass wall after Spock heroically saves the ship from danger, thereby sacrificing himself in the process.

On a personal level, I was hooked on Star Trek the original series from Junior High onward. Captain Kirk was my favorite character as a kid. And why not? He never faced a problem he couldn’t handle. As an adult, my appreciation for Spock has grown exponentially. The idea of a character who is a constant outsider and who must continually manage his inner struggle is appreciable to me. In those gloomy times after a break-up or some other loss, I harken back to Spock’s words after his girlfriend dumped him.

“She is yours. After a time, you may find that having is not nearly so pleasing a thing as wanting. ‘Tis not logical, but it is often true.”

Rest in peace, Leonard Nimoy. May your memory live long and prosper. Thank you for all of the happiness your talents have brought to me over the years.

The Road to Omaha

I’ve never been a diehard sports fan. Strange, since I grew up in a house full of jocks. Football, baseball, basketball, golf…they never interested me. I got dragged along to various sporting events wherein my brother was the center of attention and I viewed it as a good excuse to slap on my headphones and read a book.
I became a casual Husker fan during my first college years in the ‘90’s. It’s sad that it took the death of Brook Berringer to bring me around, but that’s human nature. I cheered for the Big Red along with almost every other Nebraskan, but I never bought any Husker memorabilia.
The same rule applied when I moved to Denver eight years ago. Broncos games were an obvious event, but I was along for the social interaction with my friends. Every Sunday, the guys and I would gather, turn on the radio, drink beer, smoke cigars and eat chips and bacon-wrapped stuffed jalapenos. It was all wonderfully stereotypic. I didn’t like the Broncos. I didn’t hate them. If they won, I was glad. If they lost, I would be over it 30 seconds after the final second ticked off the clock.
I cheered for the Rockies for about a month in 2007 until they got crushed under the treads of the Boston Red Sox. Then, it just got harder and harder to care. The Nuggets never interested me. The Avalanche were kind of cool to watch live, but I never actively followed them.
Then, Peyton Manning came to town and things began to change. This was on the heels of the Tim Tebow phenomenon when it became clear that media hype drove celebrity every bit as much as talent. At first, I was sure Peyton was an overrated package. He was coming off of a two-year forced hiatus due to a neck injury. My pal Steve (who knows far more about sports than I do) was so psyched over Peyton’s career change that he bet a dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings that Peyton would take the Broncos to the Super Bowl his first year out. I won, of course, and Steve was very gracious.
However, I couldn’t help but be struck by Peyton’s demeanor. The guy was practically a sports god, yet he talked like a small town grocery store owner. “Ma’m, let me wrap up those Patriots for ya. Would you like your Tom Brady in paper or plastic? And how’s Mike and the kids?”
I make it a point never to become too invested in the projected public persona of a celebrity. There’s just too much we don’t know about Peyton’s private life. Yeah, he’s got a wife and kids, which probably means he’s got four mistresses or a gay lover on the side. That’s just human nature. Yet, I can’t help but admire the guy. He’s my age and he just won his second Super Bowl trophy.
I was one of the many who reluctantly predicted a Broncos loss against the Panthers. The sting of the embarrassing defeat at the hands of the Seahawks two years ago is still felt. I can’t be happier to be wrong. After the victory, I became a diehard fan. When my paycheck permits, I’m going to own my first ever football shirt. It will be in honor of the Broncos Super Bowl 50 win. I think I’ll throw in an AFC champions shirt just for good measure.
Nebraska will always be my home, but Denver is my adopted home town. I think the Broncos are a more accurate representation of the culture here than the ever-present stench of marijuana. There is much I still don’t understand about the numerous nuances of football, but I know that, when Peyton retires, I will cheer for the Broncos and proudly display their banner from now on.
As for the Rockies…I don’t know. A man can only take so much punishment.
Go Broncos!!! Super Bowl 51, baby!

The Top 10 Crime Series of All Time

In light of my recent musings about El Chapo and the ever-shrinking gulf that separates fact from fiction in the real world, I thought I would visit the other side of the coin.

Here are my top 10 most favorite television crime series of all time.

Just to be clear, my definition of a “crime show,” is one in which crime is a central thematic element. Many shows of other genres will dabble in crime, but they are not the main emphasis. Also, programs such as Glee, Duck Dynasty, Grey’s Anatomy and Hardball with Chris Matthews don’t count. They may perpetrate crimes against society by their very existence, but they don’t use it as a fictional device on a regular basis. Well…Chris Matthews…never mind.

Here we go!:

#10. Perry Mason:

This is the pioneer of the television courtroom drama. Raymond Burr plays Perry Mason, a lawyer who will go the limit to defend his client, who is always innocent of the murder of which he/she is accused. Erle Stanley Gardner’s series of novels are vividly brought to life by Burr and company in all of their black-and-white glory. The first three seasons come closest to the spirit of the literary version, featuring Perry Mason as more of a renegade who is unafraid to skirt the boundaries of the law, thereby creating an adversarial relationship with Lt. Tragg and open hostility between Mason and D.A. Hamilton Burger. The show is formulaic; you’ve seen one episode, you’ve seen’em all. Yet, there is no spectacle that is more entertaining than Perry Mason closing in on the real murderer in court.

#9. Justified:

Another literary adaptation, this one from the pen of Elmore Leonard. The series features Timothy Olyphant as U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens, who is transferred to his home in Kentucky as punishment after the questionable shooting of a suspect. Raylan must contend with his violent past while chasing his childhood friend, Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) along with an assortment of other colorful criminals. The series is uneven at times, but the joy comes in the off-beat dialogue and vast arrayed of characters that are so common to Leonard’s stories.

#8. Prime Suspect:

The only entry in the top 10 that comes to us from across the pond. This British series features Helen Mirren as DCI Jane Tennison, a female cop who copes with sexism in the workplace while chasing serial killers, pedophiles and the like. Though feminism is a recurring theme throughout the series, it is not done to death. Tennison is not the minority super cop that you often see in Hollywood. Like her fictional male counterparts, she struggles with alcoholism and a damaged social life in the wake of her career, but at the end of the day, she is a talented cop who knows how to catch a bad guy.

#7. Fargo:

This series is based on the Coen Brothers cult classic film from 1996. I found the movie to be cartoonish and farcical, but the TV series (while existing in the same universe) is a much more three-dimensional presentation. It is a limited series, meaning that each season is comprised of different characters from a different time period in the same setting.

Season one stars Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman and Allison Tolman. It concerns a sociopathic hit man who stops in a small town in Minnesota and has a chance encounter with a downtrodden businessman. Soon, bodies start falling and a local lady cop takes interest. The second season stars Kirsten Dunst, Patrick Wilson and Jean Smart and concerns the war of two Midwestern crime syndicates and the subsequent police investigation in 1979.

The series features alternately dark, quirky humor and brutal violence, but at it’s heart are relatable, fully-realized characters.

6. The Shield:

“The road to justice is twisted.”

That is the tagline of The Shield, and it couldn’t be more apt. This police drama is anything but a procedural, featuring four crooked cops attached to an anti-gang squad in L.A. Michael Chiklis stars as Vic Mackey, a cop who has learned that street justice is far more effective than the law. If he and his partners can line their pockets along the way, so be it. But, as always, nothing is ever as simple as it seems.

#5. Columbo:

This series is known as the inverted detective mystery; you see the criminal commit the crime and then watch as the cop unravels his/her supposed perfect scheme. In this case, the cop is an unlikely hero; a diminutive slob who constantly wears a raincoat, smokes a cigar and is far less stupid and bumbling than he seems. Peter Falk plays Columbo to perfection and is always able to outwit those who think themselves superior. Some of his best foils include Jack Cassidy, Robert Culp and Leonard Nimoy. It’s also worth noting that the original movies that were featured as a part of the NBC Mystery Movie lineup in the 1970’s are the best. The revival movies that aired on ABC from 1989 through 2003 tend to play up Columbo’s eccentricities for comical effect and are therefore not as compelling.

#4. The Rockford Files:

From the ’50’s through the ’80’s, the television landscape was littered with private eye shows. The cream of the crop is Jim Rockford, played by James Garner. Rockford was a man wrongly convicted of a crime and sentenced to prison before receiving a full pardon. Jim decides to become a private detective as a means of balancing a flawed system. While other TV private eyes were consummate womanizers who drove fancy cars, dressed in smart suits and carried a gun, Jim was quite the opposite. He lived in a rundown trailer, hid a gun in his cookie jar, seldom wound up in bed with the woman of the case, lost more fistfights than he won and usually had a hard time getting his clients to pay his bill. The assets that carry Jim along are his charm and his brains. Garner’s likability, along with intelligent writing, are what make The Rockford Files a timeless classic.

#3. Homicide: Life on the Street:

The progenitor of the television police procedural is Dragnet. But if you ask me what the definitive cop show of all time is, I have to say, Homicide. It is adapted from David Simon’s book, “Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets.” It features the homicide squad of the Baltimore police department and chronicles the lives of the investigators as they go from one dead body to another. But it’s not merely about the solving of the case. Homicide takes an in-depth look at the cops who deal with man’s inhumanity to man on a daily basis and the toll that the job takes on them. The breakout star was Andre Braugher who played Frank Pembleton, a gifted cop who was a master at eliciting a confession from a suspect. Other noteworthy performances include Kyle Secor as Tim Bayliss, the troubled rookie of the unit, Melissa Leo as Kay Howard, the only female detective in the squad and Richard Belzer as John Munch. Yes, it’s the same Munch who later went on to Law & Order: SVU, though the Munch of Homicide is far more nuanced and funny than the later incarnation.

Sidebar: Katy, if you’re reading this, listen up. If there’s one show that I want you to watch and hope you’ll appreciate, it’s Homicide. If you’re not reading this…yer silly.

#2. The Sopranos:

A mafia boss starts having panic attacks, so he goes to a therapist to talk about his problems. And man, what problems he has! A nagging wife, spoiled kids, untrustworthy business associates, snooping FBI agents and worst of all…a vengeful mother who wants to see him dead. That’s a surface description of this groundbreaking epic. Beneath the surface, there is so much more. James Gandolfini does a masterful job of bringing Tony Soprano, father, husband, Mafioso and murderer, to life. Through six seasons of whackings, family drama, double crossings and therapy sessions, we watch Tony and can’t look away. Is he a sympathetic figure or a monster? You be the judge.

And…who is the one knocking at our number one spot?

Drum roll…bitch!

#1. Breaking Bad:

None of my friends who are reading this will be surprised that this is my top pick. A high school chemistry teacher gets lung cancer and starts cooking meth so that he can provide for his family after he’s gone. On paper, it looks stupid. On the small screen, it is sheer brilliance. Many networks (including HBO) passed up on this little dark horse. Five seasons later, after multiple Emmy awards and massive critical and fan love, they all regretted it. Bryan Cranston’s turn as a man who experiences the ultimate midlife crisis, transforming from mild-mannered Walter White to the ruthless drug lord known as Heisenberg is a sight to behold. Also noteworthy is the performance of Aaron Paul as Jesse, his former high school student who becomes his unwilling partner in crime, Anna Gunn is Walter’s too-smart wife and Dean Norris as Hank, Walt’s brother-in-law who just happens to be a DEA agent. This series is beautifully shot, masterfully written and superbly acted. It’s the only series on this list that doesn’t have a single glaring flaw.

Honorable Mentions: Dragnet (1951), Law & Order (original series), Sherlock, Hill Street Blues, The Equalizer, Boardwalk Empire, Terriers and Broadchurch.

Extra-Special Honorable Mention: I know what some of you may be angrily muttering right now. “Damn you, RyanO! You snubbed The Wire…again! You’re no better than those Emmy whores!”

Look, I respect The Wire as much as the next guy. Yes, it’s a smart, densely-plotted crime epic full of social commentary about how the drug war in America is failing. I’ve seen it once and, while I respect it mightily, the rewatchability factor is way low. Next to The Sopranos and Breaking Bad, it’s still bottom of the barrel in the gloomsville department. Right or wrong, it’s just not in my top 10 favorites. Besides, David Simon gets his due for Homicide. Take it and be happy.

P.S.: Katy, if you’re still reading this, you’re probably wondering, “Hey! Where’s Dexter!? Yer silly.” Dexter is the perfect example of a show that starts out great and takes a massive nosedive half-way through. The finale was so hideous…so ludicrous…that I can’t even place it in the honorable mentions slot because the resolution ruins the entire experience for me. I know this makes you say, “Eep!” but your dark passenger will just have to deal.

Book Review: “The Top 10 Lies About America”

In the wake of Mike Rosen’s retirement, my last vestige of conservative talk radio sanity is Michael Medved. On the national level, Rush, Hannity and Laura Ingraham are overt or covert Trump supporters and I can’t stomach it anymore. Glenn Beck and Mark Levin have come around to Ted Cruz, but they were never my cup of tea. On the local level, Mandy Connell is a libertarian who just can’t fill Mike’s intellectual shoes.

So, it’s down to Michael Medved. Too bad he airs from 10 PM to one AM every weeknight. I have to put head to pillow by 11 in order to function at work the next day and he doesn’t offer a free podcast, so I only catch snippets of his show.

Michael has written a book that I can’t recommend highly enough. It is called, “The 10 Big Lies About America.” He examines and deconstructs the most common distortions perpetrated about our country in the classroom, in our pop culture and at liberal cocktail parties and political forums.

This is not the obligatory book penned by your standard right-wing pundit. It’s not a conservative manifesto full of Ann Coulter-style diatribes and attacks against liberal personalities. Rather, it is a book that is chalk full of well-researched, well-presented arguments. Many on the left will dismiss these arguments out of hand, but any reasonable, thinking person should take the time to read this book and at least process the assertions set forth by Medved.

Here are, in order, the top 10 lies about America, according to Medved:

1. “America was founded on the genocide of Native-Americans.”

2. “Slavery is a uniquely American sin.”

3. “The Founding Fathers intended for America to be secular.”

4. “America was founded on multi-culturalism and is strengthened by diversity.”

5. “Big business hurts America and oppresses the people.”

6. “Government programs offer the only remedy for economic downturns and poverty.”

7. “America is an imperialist nation and a constant threat to world peace.”

8. “The two-party system is broken and we urgently need a viable third party.”

9. “A war on the middle class means less comfort and opportunity for the average American.”

10. “America is in the midst of an irreversible moral decline.”

Now, you’ve had your pudding. To have your meat, go buy the book, which is still in print. For those of you who prefer or are compelled to read audio books, I highly recommend the commercial version, which is narrated by the author. Sorry, fellow blind folks, but as of now, it’s not available on BARD, but is on Audible.com and well worth the money you’ll pay for the unabridged copy. It is also available on Bookshare.org.

So, go read this fascinating book and you’ll do better in your next argument with that unreasonable leftist. You won’t win them over, but you’ll learn a lot in the process.

Di Mi Nombre…Bitch!

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a big fan of crime fiction. Whether it is literature, movies or a television series, I love a tale full of cops, gangsters, gunfights and bloody deaths. I usually admire the writing, the acting, the thematic presentations and, in the case of Breaking Bad, I experience a bit of wish fulfillment. I admit it. Sometimes, it’s fun to root for the bad guys. I wanted Walter White to win his war against Gus Fring. When Michael Corleon sought vengeance during the climax of The Godfather, I silently cheered. After all, those cinema villains are cool, right? Sure!

And then, there’s real life, embodied by the likes of Joaquim Guzman. He’s known to his friends and admirers as, El Chapo.

If you don’t follow current events, you may be wondering who El Chapo is. If you’re a fan of the show, 24, think of Ramon Salazar. If you’re not a fan of 24, think of a Mexican version of The Godfather, or Tony Montana, or Heisenberg. If you don’t get any of those references, I can’t do anything for ya.

El Chapo is one of the biggest drug lords in the world, possibly of all time. His exact age is unknown, though he’s estimated to be around 60. He’s wed at least four spouses and sired at least 11 children. As the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, he is one of the biggest dealers of cocaine, meth, heroin and pot in Mexico, North America and Europe. He has been arrested three times and has escaped from prison twice. He has committed scores of murders and ordered hundreds more.

El Chapo (which is Mexican slang for Shorty), has the kind of biography that makes him legendary in certain quarters. It’s also the kind of story that only a Hollywood directorial legend such as Martin Scorsese could love. Maybe that’s what Hollywood actor/activist Sean Penn was thinking when he arranged to interview El Chapo on behalf of Rolling Stone Magazine. Penn conducted the interview in secret after El Chapo had escaped from a prison in Mexico for the second time. To characterize the interview as a puff piece would be generous. It was little better than a love fest, with Penn excusing much of El Chapo’s criminal behavior due to his impoverished upbringing; a claim that is dubious at best.

It is not my intention to excoriate the virtues of El Chapo. He doesn’t have any. Nor will I waste energy in the condemnation of Sean Penn. His actions are perfectly predictable. As an extreme leftist, Penn never met a despot or thug whom he didn’t love. He has openly championed the likes of Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, while characterizing George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice as, “Villainously and criminally obscene people.” His work with Rolling Stone is not his first foray into the world of advocate journalism. He has written articles for the San Francisco Chronicle, the Huffington Post and the Washington Post. He is the quintessential example of a celebrity with no real journalistic credibility who uses his fame to bolster himself as an authority on politics.

The larger question to be considered is this. How did we get to a place in our society where Sean Penn could write such a biased article about El Chapo And have it taken seriously by the public and the mainstream media?

It’s not just that El Chapo is considered to be a sort of countercultural celebrity in many circles. We’ve had our share of criminals throughout history who have been romanticized and mythologized. Think of Jesse James, Al Capone and John Gotti. Nor is it the blatantly biased “journalism” that seems to have become more popular today. I truly believe that something deeper is happening.

It is my firm belief that complex problems always have complex origins. Many would point their fingers at one scapegoat for the blurring of the lines between fact and opinion in today’s world. The left would blame Rush Limbaugh and Fox News for the problem. The right blames a biased mainstream media who openly champions one political philosophy over others. This is a simplistic view. In my opinion, various trends and events have formed a kind of nexus that culminated in the meeting of Mr. Guzman and Mr. Penn, forever to be crystallized in print.

One aspect concerns the blurring of the line that separates hard news pages from the editorial pages. We’ve always had yellow journalism in our country. William Randolph Hearst exemplified it in the early 20th century. Though he was a media magnate, many of his contemporaries shunned Hearst and condemned his work for the sensationalistic tripe that it was. In the 20th century, many hard news reporters seemed to be able to maintain a reasonable level of objectivity, even when the truth of a story was evident. Legendary investigative reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame are the best examples. Walter Cronkite was biased against the Vietnam War, but did a respectable job of keeping his opinions neutral until the tide of public sentiment turned against the war.

The face of journalism began to slowly shift over time. The Watergate scandal and the election of Ronald Reagan as president brought out a new breed of journalists who were more open in their criticisms. That was followed by the birth of the cable news phenomenon, with CNN blazing a trail toward 24/7 news coverage. In the ‘90’s, Republicans who rightly felt that they weren’t getting a fair shake in the media rejoiced at the creation of Fox News, a network billed as the alternative to CNN. The left shook it’s collective head and waited for the demise of Fox News, but throughout the late ‘90’s and the first decade of the following millennium, it became the ratings king in the world of cable news. Seeing their success, the left tried to do Fox News one better by creating MSNBC, a channel even more left of the mainstream CBS, NBC, ABC and CNN.

The first time that I really sat up and took notice of blatant mainstream advocate journalism occurred during the presidential election of 2004. Does anyone remember, Memogate?

Dan Rather and his 60 Minutes producer Mary Mapes aired a story claiming that they had obtained memos that proved that George W. Bush’s service in the Air National Guard in 1972 and 1973 was less than honorable. They further claimed that members of the Guard scrubbed the documents to cover up Bush’s failure to meet all of his service obligations.

Within minutes of the airing of the story, the conservative blogosphere went crazy. Soon, it had become apparent that the documents were forgeries and had been provided by a source who was a well-known anti-Bush partisan. After a two-week investigation fueled by mounting pressure from the mainstream press, CBS retracted the story and apologized for airing it. Mary Mapes was subsequently fired and Dan Rather relinquished the anchor’s chair of the CBS Evening News and quietly faded from the public eye. He later sued CBS, but the lawsuit was dismissed in 2009.

The money shot of this story came from Mary Mapes a year after the controversy hit. In an interview with ABC’s Brian Ross, he asked her if she thought the responsibility shouldn’t rest with the reporter to prove the authenticity of the documents before going to air. She replied, “I don’t think that’s the standard.” Her notion echoes Mark Twain who said, “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.” Twain’s remark was delivered with sardonic irony, but Mary Mapes takes it literally.

11 years after the debacle, the movie, “Truth: hit theaters, with Robert Redford starring as Dan Rather and Kate Blanchett as Mapes. The movie painted Rather and Mapes as sympathetic heroes who were chasing a true story, while CBS was depicted as the villain who was covering up for their corporate owners. CBS condemned the movie as, “rewriting history,” and few people went to see it, but that didn’t stop dozens of journalists from fawning over the real Rather and Mapes in a pre-screening press conference.

Along with the rise of the 24/7 news cycle came the rise of the internet, where anyone who operates a blog or chat forum (formerly known as a bulletin board), could call him or herself a journalist. The black-and-white print of newspapers started to become obsolete in favor of instantaneous electronic transmissions that could be posted in mere seconds. In order to keep up with the instant gratification of readers, all of the major newspapers began to shift to digital content in hopes of keeping their corporate owners in the black, all the while competing with original websites such as Slate.com and The Daily Caller.

Sidebar: The irony isn’t lost on me that it was a bunch of bloggers who forced Memogate into the public eye, while the mainstream media chose to ignore it until it became the 500-pound elephant in the room. These people are admittedly partisan. It’s sad that not one hard-news journalist ran with the ball before it became popular to do so.

Finally, celebrity culture has taken a major upswing in the 21st century. Social media plays a pivotal role. Most people have a Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn or Snapchat account. Within mere seconds, you can show that cute photo of your kid making a mashed potato sculpture to all of your friends and family. If he’s cute enough, you will go viral, getting thousands of hits on Youtube. Suddenly, you’re a “journalist” who might just get to interview Barack Obama, or pose a planted question at a presidential debate.

Combine this with the sad trend of so-called, “Reality television.” It started innocently enough in the late ‘90’s with soft fare like Cops and Who Wants to be a Millionaire, but with the dawn of the millennium, we amped it up from American Idol and The Amazing Race to Survivor, Fear Factor, The Apprentice, Real World and Duck Dynasty. These shows may have different styles, but the common thread involves supposedly ordinary people being plucked from obscurity and slowly emerging into the spotlight of fame, all while the cameras roll.

And then, there’s Rolling Stone.

Rolling Stone was never intended to be a hard news publication on par with USA Today, but they try to remain an avant-garde force with the younger generation. To that end, they love to mix socio/politics with their pop culture. They’ve never been known for their journalistic integrity or impartiality. Remember the August, 2013 cover that featured a flattering photo of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (aka, The Boston Marathon Bomber)? The issue was banned by many stores, including Wal-Mart, over the cover. But they hit a new low the following year when they published a now-infamous story about an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia. The story was proven to be fabricated and Rolling Stone was forced to issue a retraction. The author, Sabrina Erdely, is clearly a fan of Mary Mapes’ style of “journalism.” It’s also noteworthy that Erdely is still employed at Rolling Stone. At least CBS had the decency to fire Mapes.

No, it’s not a bit surprising that Rolling Stone would collaborate with Sean Penn to concoct a piece glorifying a murderous drug lord like El Chapo. It’s not even surprising that the media’s reaction to the interview was so tepid. It’s not even surprising that Rolling Stone agreed to give El Chapo preapproval for the article before it ran. Founder Jann Wenner’s’s quote sums up the situation from Rolling Stone’s perspective: “We have let people in the past approve their quotes for interviews.” How many of those people are drug lords who kill reporters who write unflattering articles about them and popularized the beheading of their enemies as a means of warfare?

The nice thing about fictional characters like Tony Soprano is that, once you turn off your television, they flicker out of existence. They are born from the imaginations of a group of people sitting around a conference table in a writers’ room somewhere. Sean Penn thrives in a world of fiction, both in his personal and professional life. El Chapo’s victims live and die in a stark reality. Those who are no longer here to speak for themselves passed with a death scream upon their lips. Those who are left behind live as slaves to addiction with poison in their blood. As fiction and reality become more blurred in our modern age of the information super highway, that cold, brutal fact never changes.